“Best we get there early,” says Jakes. “This snow’ll fill the place proper.”
“Damn me,” I says. “More water in the soup, and probably a longer sermon.”
“That soup’s still’s hot, ain’t it?” he retorts. “Besides, the coffee’s decent.”
“I got about a quart of wine here,” I says. “Maybe I’ll stay out.”
“Use your head, Togs,” he says. “You drink that now, what’ll you do later? You’ll freeze, is what. Come with me to the mission. We’ll get some soup and sawdust bread, listen to the sky-pilot’s Jesus Jaw. Afterward, we’ll find a warm spot and drink that wine.”
We’re all subject to luck, and luck had me draw the short straw.
It could have been any of us.
We said our goodbyes, no tears shed.
I sit now looking around at this room, cleaner than any place I’ve ever been.
The broker talked endlessly about how all this was to be painless, but I’m still frightened.
I try to imagine all that this money will buy, but my mind is drifting.
All those pieces of me, how they’ll live on in these people.
My lungs, my heart, even my eyes.
What will these strangers see through my eyes?
The whir of the machine, then the silence as the nurse switches it off. I peer up at the circle of faces around my bed, concern and grief and, in one case, repulsion.
I feel myself floating, entirely aware. My individuality seems intact, though I can tell even now it is beginning to dissolve at the edges.
This is not what I’d thought it would be. There is no tunnel of light, no line of predecessors waiting to greet me. But neither is there an emptiness. The world is still there, going on without me while I look on, detached.
Hanh glanced up at the long room, the rows of sewing machines.
The black hair of the women hidden by the uniform blue scarves they were required to wear.
The clatter of the needles, the staccato whir of the motors.
Old Tham paced the rows of bowed heads, one eye on the women and the other on the clock.
Beside each worker stood the stack of their completed work.
This week it was Bermuda shorts in festive colors.
Next week it might be khaki trousers or faded denim.
Hanh had never seen anyone wearing any of the clothes she made.
I guess I wasn’t thinking. I never meant for it to go so far. I was just shook by the insult, I guess. If I’d cooled down some, I probably wouldn’t have done it, and that little girl wouldn’t be paralyzed.
It wasn’t like it would never have happened sooner or later. Butler was always lax on wheel safety. A good many of them bolts was stripped so’s you could turn ’em with your hands anyway. I just loosened up some of the others.
The truth is if they hadn’t fired me none of this would have had to happen.
Oh Mama I know you don’t like it
when I bring up my funeral.
You always want to change the subject,
what with your practical mind
but I say a man gets buried once, and once is enough
so I will lay it out:
I want a second line, sure
but in both directions, with no sad marching coffin-carry
joy all the way, for you know I am free
and everyone at the after-party should bring a dish
some favorite taste to linger in their mouth
remind them of me their whole life through
Tanny’s more careful than me.
I wanted to barge right in, but he said wait so we waited.
Turned out I was right this time, but I appreciate his caution.
That first few weeks after the bug hit, people were likely to do anything.
Before the news went off the air for good, we’d hear stories of murder-suicides nearly every day.
They’d lose hope and love and everything but rage.
Eventually they lost that too.
Nowadays, there’s so few of us left you’d think we’d get along better, but no.
It’s the same as ever.
That’s why Tanny’s so careful.